Thursday, October 27th, 2011

Local Twitter Slang, And All That Jawn

Would people stop calling me uneducated
it offends my muthafuckin alma mater Hunter College.Thu Oct 20 00:21:55 via Twitter for iPad

Profanity is alive and well on Twitter, except in Utah, apparently. You'd expect heathen citydwellers to swear, and we do not disappoint, but the Bible belt is pretty foul-mouthed too (no word whether language there trended cleaner on Sundays). Thanks to tweets, blog comments and unlocked Facebook feeds, we know more than ever before about the way regular people—in New York, Detroit, Miami, Los Angeles, and the DMV—talk to each other, although everyone disagrees about the Internet's effect on slang in general, and regional slang in particular.

So far studies have been limited, and findings contradictory. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon took a statistical look at language used on Twitter over the course of a month last year and concluded that regionalisms not only still exist but are continuing to develop. Northern Californians tend—no surprise—to be "hella" tired, while New Yorkers are "deadass" tired and Angelenos are "tired 'af.'" "Y'all" is, of course, Southern; yinz is characteristic of Pittsburgh; and references to soda (general), pop (Midwest) and Coke (South) also conform to the Harvard Dialect Survey. But the abbreviation for cool in Northern California is written as koo; in Southern California it's coo. And "suttin"—a new discovery—pops up in New York City and Boston.

Meanwhile, and conversely, a British sociolinguistics expert argues that social media is actually spreading (and thus diluting) regionalisms (such as Cornwall's "dreckly," to use an overseas example). "'Twitter, Facebook and texting all encourage speed and immediacy of understanding, meaning users type as they speak, using slang, dialect respellings and colloquialisms,'" said Dr. Erik Schleef. "'The result is we are all becoming exposed to words we may not have otherwise encountered, while absorbing them into everyday speech.'" A Guardian critic disputes his claim, ascribing the spread of Welsh terms to "old-fashioned television."

Tracking regional slang and usage in any reliable way has always been cumbersome and time-consuming; the difficulty lies in “bring[ing] linguistic geography down to a human scale.” Entries in the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), for instance, “have a homespun texture, demanding [that readers] reconcile various types of information in order to understand what DARE has to say about a word or phrase. … A DARE entry might include any combination of quotations from regional literature, diaries, small-town newspapers, material from WELS, the various linguistic atlases (published and unpublished), other accounts of dialect in scholarly literature, substantial personal collections donated to the project by scholars at the ends of their careers … and, of course, questionnaire responses, identified by informant, so that the curious reader can refer to the ‘List of Informants’ to discover his or her community, community type, year of birth, level of education, occupation, sex, and race—all types of information that can be overlooked in other historical dictionaries.” The profusion of real-time evidence accumulating on Twitter and Facebook must be a treasure trove for linguists and dialectologists, or at least it will be once they decide exactly how to sift and evaluate it.

I’m no scholar, just a language enthusiast. I was born in Dallas, to a Texan and a Mississippian, and raised in Miami—which is a whole 'nother country—and there was enough regional incompatibility between the way people spoke in my house and how they spoke outside it that as a child I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to erase any markers of what I thought of as hickishness from my speech. As I’ve gotten older, and more interested in talking the way I actually think, a slew of Texan expressions and indicators of Southernness have made their way back into my conversation, and I’m increasingly fascinated by accents, dialects and regionalisms.

Here in Brooklyn, where I've lived for twelve years, at least half the people I meet are transplants, and I’m constantly embarrassing my husband and friends by trying to guess where strangers are from. The more subtle the cues, the greater the fun.

Judging from my random wanderings on Twitter, this annoying hobby of mine isn’t as unusual as I’ve been led to believe. A vast cross-section of users are slang detectives—or police or thieves. Some taunt followers from other places who use unfamiliar words; some get annoyed when people elsewhere appropriate their regional lingo; some openly seek to fill out their repertoire, constantly picking up new words from their stream or their vacations. Others suffer from slang anxiety, and some of these seek advice, and they are in luck: people love to hold forth, with or without prompting, on all matters relating to language. Arguments erupt; proclamations are made; contempt and paranoia flourish. "Wondering how many followers are 'eating' off my tweets," says Deshair, who remembers when "Urban slang took at least two years to go mainstream. By the time the mainstream got to it, Urban mouths were done with it."

Here, loosely categorized, are some of my favorite regional slang tweets, collected over the past six months or so. I found all, or nearly all, of these by searching Twitter for anyone using the word "slang."


I find it hilarious that a bunch of these New NY rappers are using TX Slang..reminds me of all the TX rappers who used to copy NY slang lol
Sep 10 via EchofonFavoriteRetweetReply

If you’re not from here, you can’t say that, is a common refrain on Twitter, and New Yorkers may be the most possessive of all. Chelseas_Unique, for example, wants Californians to lay off her lingo. “Since when does ppl in LA say OD? That's NY slang yo.” And a nostalgic New York expat wishes people in Florida would stop saying "corny & that's poppin & you already… that's ny slang."

There’s plenty of attitude flowing back at New Yorkers, though; San Antonio hip-hop artist Question210 (above) isn’t the only Texan who’s touchy about New York City rappers using Texan slang. Houston/Missouri City writer _brandoc goes on a tear, arguing that “a Southern act rocking hoodies & timbs and jacking NYC slang, [we'd] laugh at him straight to the bank,” but when Northerners do it, “in the land of co-op (where everyone needs to be socialist to succeed apparently), nobody will call it for what it is": “An act. Every act that comes to Texas will INSTANTLY adopt to Texan slang & culture to fit the f-ck in and we'll let them run w/ it cause…" (next tweet) "'If they blow up, we blow up.’ No idiot, if you blow up, YOU blow up. They blow up because THEY blow up.”

And these aren’t just East Coast-West Coast and North-South concerns. "#PLAGIARISM,” qno_rico says, retweeting PrettyMoneyyy11: “I hate when Clarksville [Mississippi] people use Memphis slang. It's awkward."

“OMG,” DeliciousDai chides Ngallaway62, “please stick to your own wack-ass Michigan slang…. don't try to jock our shit.” Which leads to the next category…


Can't stand when niggas try and use East Coast slang over here! Go over there with that shit!
Apr 03 via Twitter for iPhoneFavoriteRetweetReply

People in this camp aren’t so much protecting their native slang as dissing somebody else’s. “Slurred?” a St. Louis girl says to Awe_Okay (who’s announced plans to get “sluuuurrrrred this weekend.!!!!!!!!!!!!!”). “Thas some Alabama slang? -____- yur stl card has been revoked." “Alabama slang is really bothering me ijus cant get wit it,” says SLmChanceIFall, who’s “#GermanyRaised” but lists her location as “IDGAF Avenue, Atlanta.”

"I hate when Miami boys start saying bro… Using up north slang… Nigga you know we don't call each other bro down here ‘that's gay,’" beautiful_kj announces. (Actually, when I was growing up in South Florida, “bro” was everywhere, but then, I am old.) AyNnandi contends that "Ppl from jersey just shouldnt say jawn” –a term, discussed at length below, that most people on Twitter seem to associate with nearby Philly –“some slang is best left where its from & i SWEAR if NJ nigz start sayin ‘Joe’ im dippin to Cali."

Kentuckian irishrover85 is amused by and a little disdainful of an acquaintance’s use of the word “reckon”: " Maybe this goes to show he has been IN Tx too much…he's starting to pick up the slang lol."

When AllUpOnYoTL complains that “‘Nobody ever understands Louisiana slang,’” DdotBurns doesn’t have much sympathy; “nobodi understand crackhead slang,” he quips.

Sometimes people actually threaten violence. WCMurdaHD tells DeeGlow, “she sey one more english word .. matta fact even a GT slang.. mi ah go hold on pon she neck like a necklace.. #Fact…” And Michael Schaub is, as always, succinct and hilarious in this double-edged tweet: "Americans who use British slang sound like bloody wankers."


Is "cuttin'" as it relates to coitus a Southern slang term? When I say it to people here in NYC, they don't know what I'm talking about.
Sep 11 via webFavoriteRetweetReply

Being a neurotic person myself, I empathize with people like missjure (above) who want to be sure they’re not making asses of themselves—especially if they’re talking about coitus. And kissmybeautie’s complaint is fair enough. "I get so irked when the white kids at my school look/act funny whn I say a slang thy don't know -___- like really, use context clues."

Still, I was surprised by the high level of naked slang anxiety. "I need to catch up on this Philly Slang. I don't understand half of the words yall be saying :/" confesses _BooTATlicious_. “Is #DMV slang really that hard to understand cuz people from other places be actin like I'm speaking Hebrew or something,” BreeDatDude jokes. ChellFromPhilly can relate: "Hate when people dont know what im talkin bout cuz of my ‘Philly Slang’. Lol im use to talkin like that i cant help it." As can Memphisite ThatRudeChick, who warns, "If you stay in Memphis…don't take the Memphis slang out of Memphis. TRUST ME, no one is gonna know what you're talking about."

IAmDeWitt has had enough of Baltimore. “Baltimore slang is so wierd. People keep asking do I want ’hacks..rosebuds…skittles’ lol I don't know what to say. Lls I'm just like ‘ehh.’" Poor Denny2live suffers from multi-region exposure: "i kno i sound crazy wen i talk cuz i got memphis ,st. louis n philly slang in me smh." And xXAEZillaXx has himself similarly all tied up in knots: "I just said ‘going ham’ in a sentence to myself and felt weird cuz I know that aint bay slang, yes im ignorant I can do that.”

Some tweets in this genre are difficult to parse. Neurosis, or humble-brag? "I'ma start using NY slang. It's bad enough some of my local Detroit natives think I'm from there -___________-" “Textin @stillpopularcuh gotta remember not to use the #Detroit slang since he's from #Vegas & #LongBeach nshit lol.”

Neurosis, or diss? “What on earth is a humdinger? Is this some sort of American slang I've never heard of?” "I wonder if the Ying Yang twins know that it's actually YIN and Yang. Or is there some Atlanta slang I'm unaware of?" "'Tiny Dancer, where you at?’ I'm right here? (New Orleans businessman finds humor in my obliviousness to N.O. slang.)”

For Louisiana transplant iKeepYOUChipper, anxiety becomes triumph: “I love how when I first came here everybody got on how California people talk & our slang is ‘dumb’ but NOW muhfuckass' using OUR shit smh.”


learning slang straight out of England. "Spit Roasted" means getting fucked from both ends… #WHAT
Sep 11 via webFavoriteRetweetReply

If you ask Twitter where a word originated—and even if you don’t—Twitter will tell you. Or try to. Take “jawn,” a noun defined in Green's Dictionary of Slang (2011)—a book you can easily lose whole days in—as “an indiscriminate term, usu. used of something or someone that causes happiness, joy or excitement; also used as adj.” The supporting citation is a 2003 Urban Dictionary entry; usage is attributed to “U.S. campus.”

By general Twitter consensus, “jawn” is “super Philly slang” meaning “anything! a girl, song…anything loz or “a woman, place or thing.” The best example sentence I’ve seen is from tedwardhowell: "student, talking on phone in the hallway, just referred to an abscessed tooth as ‘that jawn I had before.’" There are dissenters from the broad definition, though: "Its philly slang means joint like that joint was poppin that jawn was poppin"; "I thought it was the sothern version of joint lol”; "Not from PA but its short for joint."

So Twitter’s pronouncements are inconsistent and sometimes unreliable. But they’re still fun to read. "Derrty, word, chuuch, mo, goosin are all St. Louis slang." "In my Miami slang: I'm so throwed. In my NY slang: I'm twistedddd." "Bogan Ipsum: The much funnier Australian slang version of lorem ipsum dummy text." "For those who don't know ’buttas’ is Philly slang for Constructs also known as Timbs." “‘What up doe’ That's that Detroit slang all the way in the A!! Money Greeting.” "Eminem was the first to say, ‘Good Lowdy Whody,’ not Big Sean. They are both from the D, so I guess that's Detroit slang." A heavily-retweeted list of “DMV slang” includes “Moe, Dew, Slim, Fool, Holmes, Go Smack, Joan, Oc, Fred, Dead, Live, Crack, Son, Fire up.” "DC got the best slang. ‘Son. Moe. Kill. Young. Stamp. On Who. Real Live. Dats Dead. #teamfollowback #instantfollow.” “In Atlanta it's ‘Rubber neckers,’ in Chicago, it's ‘Gaper's delay.’ Traffic slang!” "I need me a junt (memphis slang), a shawty (atl slang), a babooski (in my slang)… *sigh* WHERE YOU AT!" “Huff,” says Capt_Obvious, is Chicago slang “for wack, garbage, hella weak, etc." "In miami we got crippie n chronic." "New slang out here in Houston gnr RT @Sprincell What that mean RT @JDWeJam Just left paranormal activity…..”

And from the historical department: “an 1839 dict. of local slang has dropped on my desk. In the c19th North, twitter meant ‘to tremble’. In Craven, ‘uneasy’. So there you go."


Chicago = Miss.'s biggest city RT @kiko_styles: @me '…All outdoors' is Chicago slang?! I've only heard ppl from the south say that..
Oct 18 via EchofonFavoriteRetweetReply

Slang talk gets exciting when people start arguing—not so much in the "we don't use wack slang in Brooklyn" vein, but smack-talking of the "Silence i dnt even use words like ‘green’.. I dnt do that memphis slang. DETROIT BITCH yeeaa" variety.

And it’s even more fun when tweeps disagree about word origins. "Shut up yo. That's east coast slang RT @VoCal_KiSS: Ppl from NY forever saying yo and ma, and kid. Who yall think y'all is? Lol #NYStandUp." "Eh hem…sorry sweetie…can't cosign that one. NY…YALL SEE THIS?? => RT @MzReminisce@RULERDIVINE I know but ‘nah mean’ is philly slang." "That's DC slang gurl.. ‘@AlannaDawkins: #thebait .. #lingo down here.. bait = hottie, attracts everyone.’"

Or authenticity: "If you're using NY slang and you're not from there, I won't take you seriously." “I'm glad I sound right when I curse & use slang because some of you be sounding so awkward it makes me uncomfortable.” “If you're a Detroit nigga talk like one, if you're a Vegas nigga talk like one…stop dicksuckin other peoples ‘slang’ .. tryna be cool -_-.”

A lot of these denunciations, passive-aggressively (or aggressively?) directed at entire Twitter streams, get no response. But it takes two for a misunderstanding. Here’s a lighthearted one between mikecane and JulietaLionetti that could’ve come from a Laurel & Hardy routine: “My foot. My foot. My foot. My foot. My foot.” “@JulietaLionetti Are you trying out American slang or have a podiatry problem?”

And here’s my favorite. Alas, Poor Roderick, she didn’t mean what he thought she meant: "we need to get up soon"; "we need to get up soon?? lol"; "yea as in meet up foo"; "oh ok must be that down south slang but yea we can do that no doubt."


I'm not ignorant enough to get Philly slang referencing the better race's hair… Urban dictionary can't save me either.
Sep 09 via Twitter for iPhoneFavoriteRetweetReply

Generally I disapprove of people who generally disapprove of slang, but some of the most cutting commentary on Twitter comes from this camp. My favorite example is above. More highlights: “scrap it? Dre you know I don't bang with slang. lol.” “Some of this Atlanta slang is just so extra and y'all sound dumb talking to me like that.” "'Aye watch dis' in the DMV means 'aye im bout to do something ignorant.'" “Try going to a job interview talking in all DMV slang…good luck.” “Some west-country bumpkins on the train are talking using london slang about mugging me and stealing my laptop!”

And then, from time to time, there are converts. "I hate Philly slang ‘jawn’ this & ‘drawlin’ that," said vivalacree_ just a couple days before trying it out for herself: "My new flat irons>>> them jawns is love! (Check me w/ my Philly slang ^_^)."

The best thing about the opprobrium camp is that it incites such great come-backs. "I may say some things in slang,” says TERMINATE_ALL, “but dont get things twisted I still have a very sophisticated vocabulary so dont play me like Im dumb."

First prize goes to Bronx native (and Buckaroo Banzai heroine, and one of my personal heroes) Ellen Barkin, for: "Would people stop calling me uneducated it offends my muthafuckin alma mater Hunter College." "Than stop using idiotic gansta wanna be dialect," said follower blindedbyblonde of Austin, who groused, when people pointed out that the proper word is "then," not "than": "Trying to correct tweet composition is like a nun trying to virginize ho's in a brothel."

Maud Newton is a writer and critic best known for her blog, where she has written about books since 2002.

43 Comments / Post A Comment

keisertroll (#1,117)

In Philly Slang, "Soft Pretzel" is code for every depraved sexual act ever.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@keisertroll I thought that was "whiz wit"

metoometoo (#230)

My best friend and I got into a drunken tiff with a bouncer in Edinburgh, who accused us of muttering "wanker" at him. We were belligerently outraged because OBVIOUSLY we're AMERICANS and AMERICANS would NEVER say WANKER!!!!

But when I went to summer camp in Dublin, my Irish friends diligently schooled me in their slang, making me practice over and over until I had the inflections down perfectly. Since I had all my earliest kisses and flirtations and boyfriends at camp, I took particular delight in terms like "snogging." My favorite was saying "meet" to mean hook up.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@metoometoo I call people wankers, wanks, and wankjobs all the time. Anyone that says an American can't say wanker is, by definition, a wanker.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

@boyofdestiny Wanksta.

metoometoo (#230)

@boyofdestiny Ew. It is a gross-sounding word already, but sounds exponentially grosser when spoken with an American accent.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@metoometoo "Snogging" is grosser-sounding!

Althea (#167,692)

@metoometoo Did they teach the legend thing (where you sarcastically call someone a 'ledge' while making a l-shape with your fingers)? I met someone from Dublin and she did that and the rest of us from the UK had no idea what she was doing. Since then I've been trying to spread it but most people just think I'm insane.

metoometoo (#230)

@Althea That sounds vaguely familiar, but no, I don't think I know that one.

@Althea In my part of the world, 'ledge' is short for 'legend.' But when you call someone that, you don't accompany it with the 'Loser' hand sign.

lauren_llc (#17,536)

Some of my favorite Philly slang is "tryna" (referring to attempts at getting another person into bed) and "yahmean" (used in the same context as "nahmean.")

And of course, DC/DMV will never back off "bama," despite cries of racism/classism/etc. Bless their hearts.

freetzy (#7,018)

@lauren_llc You'll pry "bama" from my cold, dead lips.

Maud Newton (#600)

Wish you would all go type these comments — such great slang! tryna! soft pretzel (is that really true? I am so gullible)! — into Twitter so I could amend the story to include them.

Bryan Keller (#3,804)

If you can read this, you did not go to Performing Arts.

Vera Knoop (#2,167)

I did not know that Ellen Barkin was a venerable fucking alumna of my esteemed alma goddamn mater. Live and learn.

bangs (#19,284)

In Saskatchewan they call hoodies "bunny hugs", only Saskwatchewan…

MrsLlama (#167,676)

Language-obsessed peoples!!! Other than myself! This post my my day.

I am shocked no one mentioned the DC slang to end all DC slang, the across-racial-divides putdown that is BAMA. I keep trying to make it stick in NY but mostly no one knows what I'm talking about.

Edited to say- ok so someone said it in the comments, I'm obviously a bama myself.

DH@twitter (#99,666)

NY folks really complaining about people in FL using their slang? Half the residents of this state are from New York to begin with.

hockeymom (#143)

Is there even slang in Minnesota?
(Anything Garrison Keillor says does not count. Or the chick who wrote Juno.)

@hockeymom Can "Minnesota Nice" be considered slang?

Brunhilde (#1,225)

@hockeymom My friends from Minneapolis (I'm dating one and apparantly they come in herds) all say "borrow me" instead of "Can I borrow". As in "Hey Johnny, borrow me a dollar" instead of "Hey Johnny, can I borrow a dollar". Also, they all say "Dude" as if it has 5 syllables, and with a frequency that even I, as a native Californian, find really excessive.

MissMushkila (#42,100)

@hockeymom I am Minnesotan and do both of these! I know, because my boyfriend makes fun of me for both (he is also Minnesotan, but of more scrupulously correct grammar).

My excuse/explanation I once heard for the "borrow me" habit was that German uses the same word for borrow and lend. Minnesota has a huge German heritage population, and apparently when learning English way back in the day that was a common mistake. Generations later, I'm perpetuating it…Maybe someone who knows German could confirm?

As for Dude, it's a good example word, but I've heard generally we Minnesotans draw out syllables for longer than we ought. Thats more of an accent than slang though?

The closest I can come up with are things like "interesting" and "different" used as pejoratives. Someone says some crazy shit – "oh, thats interesting." Sort of like "congratulations, how wonderful" but universally understood in the north star state? This is something transplants seem to note.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

I am impressed, if not surprised, to learn that the Dept of Motor Vehicles has evolved its own dialect.

Maud Newton (#600)

@Tulletilsynet At first I thought it was that DMV too, but it stands for DC-Maryland-Virginia.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

@Maud Newton
You are saying those words don't subtly distinguish species of queues, hassles and apathies?

So what you're saying is black people on twitter use regionalisms that are far more conspicuous than white people's and therefore it's much easier to group them all together for a blog post, put a pretty bow on it and call it science?

Tulletilsynet (#333)

She had you at "bloody wankers," I bet.

Brunhilde (#1,225)

@Tulletilsynet "Spit Roasted"

@Tulletilsynet not saying you have to be John McWhorter to discuss how cray-cray black people be talking. all eyes sayin' is this sample set is very small and seems to be focused primarily on language of a certain color, you wanker.

Maud Newton (#600)

@snackychocolate I'm sorry the piece can be read that way. That's definitely not the spirit I approached it in — I didn't see this as a post about black slang or white slang — and I didn't and would never suggest that any of what I found while intermittently searching Twitter for the word "slang" over the course of a few months comes anywhere close to science. Anything else I might say would just seem defensive, so I'll stop there and respect your opinion.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

@Maud Newton
Too modest to mention your abiding interest in regional dialects?

automaticdoor (#11,521)

Maud, I read this post of yours and my pappy said numbers 3-7. Precisely like that. He was from near Asheville. I personally say 4 and 5. (As written.)

…I thought the "advanced rebel/yankee test" was wrong because in the options for what feels natural to you for expressing when something is large, "real big" was not an option. Neither was "awful big." I had to pick "awfully big." I tried so hard to get rid of my accent as a kid but now I am just rolling with it because the older I get, the harder it is.

Maud Newton (#600)

@automaticdoor I'm fascinated by this. My grandmother of that list of expressions had lots of North Carolina family, though I don't know much about them, and she's buried outside Asheville, in Fletcher, about a quarter-mile from where my mother now lives.

I love 'jawn', the word for everything I guess

Perhaps of interest: in this week's Sunday Review, the NYT ran a similar piece which seems to borrow from Ms. Newton's.

Maud Newton (#600)

@Shona Sanzgiri@facebook I enjoyed Ben Zimmer's piece. My sense is that the close those Sunday Review articles pretty far in advance; I think he and I just happened to be thinking about some of the same potentials of Twitter, but from different angles, his more scholarly, and mine more idiosyncratic and personal.

I'm sure that's true. Though Zimmer's paragraph on the regional variance of 'koo' and 'coo' stands out nonetheless – even more peculiar because, as a native Californian, I have never once encountered it or understood it to be northern vs. southern. The fact that both of you fell upon this supposed phenomena is an interesting coincidence, I guess.

Maud Newton (#600)

@Shona Sanzgiri@facebook That Carnegie Mellon finding about koo/coo was completely based on a statistical study that centered on users' purported location. It was the first major study of its kind, or at least the first I'm aware of (though as I said in the piece, I'm not a linguist and don't spend time in those kinds of trenches), so that's probably why we both ended up citing it. I do wonder about the reliability of those kinds of determinations. On the one hand, they're based on statistics and so are by definition indicative of trends. On the other hand, those statistics are completely divorced from any other information. As a New Yorker, I have to say, no one in my stream ever uses the phrase "deadass tired." But maybe that's a function of the people I follow? Anyway, now I'm rambling and just thinking out loud… Thanks for reading.

semiserious (#2,430)

Bro, @beautiful_kj is no authority on Miami slang. Bro is still incredibly pervasive down here. Really, among certain groups its less of a slang term than it is a preferred, all-encompassing interjection.

Maud Newton (#600)

@semiserious Just like the Miami of my memories!

Maud Newton (#600)

@semiserious (btw, thanks, bro!)

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